EUREKA TOWNSHIP – As officials come close to updating this township’s 200-plus page zoning ordinance, one element of that ordinance continues to be discussed and reviewed – wind energy.
The Eureka Township Planning Commission has spent more than a year working to update “Ordinance 79” – a 251-page document containing all of the township’s zoning laws.
However, the section on wind energy is being given additional focus following concerns brought forward from members of the public.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Planning Commission Chairman Duane Putnam informed those in the audience that any potential changes to the ordinance remain in draft form and have yet to be presented in a formal capacity.
Following the May and June meetings of the Planning Commission, Putnam said a number of concerns related to wind turbines were brought to the attention of township attorney Cliff Bloom.
“Our attorney has gone through it and it has been passed onto our township planner, Andy Moore, and he is taking a look at it,” he said. “Once he has a thorough feeling for it, what he feels is a good layout of what is going on and what he feels is appropriate, he will pass that onto us and we’ll be able to take a look at it and go over it at that time. So that’s where we are at on that. We’re not going to look at doing anything to it until we get any information from him.”
According to Putnam and Township Supervisor/Zoning Administrator Darcie Kelley, no wind energy companies have expressed any interest in Eureka Township as a potential location for erecting wind turbines.
“Let me say it again, Eureka Township is not being looked at for any kind of wind energy placement,” Putnam said. “We have too many natural resources and state land as part of our township. We don’t have the large, open fields that the other townships have – the large, large farms. We have some large farms, but not that large, not so large that they would be looking at us at this particular time. That’s what we have been told at this point in time.”
While Apex Clean Energy representatives have made that statement to Eureka Township officials, the wind developer has proposed to construct as many as 75 wind turbines exceeding 600 feet in height throughout at least nine other townships in Montcalm County. As a result, some residents have come forward asking that township officials update the ordinance to be more restrictive as a way of being proactive.
When asked by Almer Township Supervisor Jim Mantey, who also owns a home on Harlow Lake in Eureka Township, if the draft version of the ordinance would be posted online for the public to review, Putnam said that will occur once it has been prepared in a final form.
Vice Chairman Marty Posekany said he anticipates a number of changes have been made following the Commission’s request that Bloom look into issues including automated radar lighting and automatic fire suppression systems for turbines, among other concerns.
“I’m sure the attorney has made changes to it because of our input,” he said. “When it comes back to us, we’ll take a look at those, and we might even make some more changes, but another public hearing will have to be held and we will be sharing the entire ordinance, including the other 200-plus pages that no one else seems to be concerned about – other than wind.”
Commissioner Jon Behrends said it was his impression that Bloom is also reviewing the work being performed on other amended wind ordinances throughout the county and state.
“Because all the townships were redoing their ordinances, we were told he was looking at ours (in comparison),” he said. “So we are waiting to see what he is suggesting for changes as well.”
Posekany believes those revisions have been completed and he’s hopeful the Commission will have official recommendations for the ordinance regarding wind energy from Moore within a week or so.
The majority of Wednesday’s public comment was focused on wind, with three people sharing additional concerns.
Eureka Township resident Kathy Craig pleaded with township officials to work “in the spirit of the Eureka Township Zoning Ordinance,” which she outlined is not currently written in a way that would promote the addition of wind turbines.
“In Eureka we have many statements in our zoning rules that really do serve the people well,” she said.
Citing various studies, Craig brought forth concerns regarding sleep deprivation, increased air temperatures, noise and visual pollution as a result of wind turbines.
“There’s no berm or fence tall enough to create any kind of buffer zone,” she said. “They (turbines) create loud, offensive noises, environmental impacts, ruin the aesthetic qualities of our township and they do affect the quality of life. When it comes to this particular ordinance you are working on, please continue to listen to your constituents and please continue to follow the spirit of the Eureka Township zoning ordinance. Do not allow these to be installed and erected in our township.”
Mantey also spoke against turbines, bringing forward a specific concern regarding decommissioning.
“I’m looking through I guess what you have right now is your existing ordinance, and specifically, I was looking at the decommissioning. It looks like you leave it up to the developer to tell you what the cost of decommissioning is, and that’s unconscionable to me,” he said. “If you look at ordinances across the state … they put right in there that developers have to put upwards of $500,000 per turbine in escrow. If it doesn’t get used for decommissioning, they get it back.”
Mantey then stood up from his seat, walked over to the light switch in the township hall and proceeded to turn the lights on and off, aiming to demonstrate the alleged effect of shadow flicker from turbines.
“(Apex) will tell you that 30 minutes of this, that’s not a big deal,” he said. “I have several videos of people that put up with that near wind developments. That’s not annoying, right? That’s one of the reasons she (Craig) can cite that property values significantly drop.”
Mantey also asked that the township rework the setback limits in the ordinance to be geared toward turbine height, upwards of three to four times the turbine height from neighboring property lines.
Greenville resident Trisha Rose said despite Apex having informed township officials it does not plan to erect turbines in Eureka Township, she felt that the Commission should still create a restrictive ordinance.
“I’m glad to hear that Apex said they are not interested in Eureka, but I think that’s all the more reason why we need a responsible wind ordinance in place now, before anything does happen,” she said.
Rose also stated she would like the ordinance to address infrasound (low-frequency sound) generated from turbines.
Putnam thanked all three residents for sharing their thoughts.
“It’s always so nice when people come in to talk to us and they have done some background work – with proof and facts about what they are talking about,” he said.
In regard to requests to keep wind turbines out of Eureka Township entirely, Posekany cautioned against creating an ordinance that could be determined exclusionary in court. He pointed to efforts by legislators in Lansing on the subjects of short-term rentals and mining.
Throughout the state, some municipalities have gone through efforts that resulted in ordinances that aim to outright prohibit those industries from taking place in their respective municipalities.
As a result, Posekany believes those industries are fighting back by making change through legislation in Lansing. Last month, the Michigan Senate approved of a bill that would shift gravel mining approval from local authorities such as townships and cities to the state government.
While Eureka Township spent years drafting a mining ordinance in an effort to allow such an industry with respect to residents, state control would supersede that ordinance.
Posekany said a similar effort is now occurring with short-term rental ordinances, and he believes that if current trends of restrictive ordinances continue, he could see wind turbine ordinances following a similar path.
“Keep in mind what our employees in Lansing have done with the mining – they’ve taken it out of our hands,” he said. “It’s the same thing with the short-term rentals … and I can see the same thing coming down the road in Lansing with wind energy. I can see Apex or anybody else – large energy companies – if they get enough people in Lansing, they can come up with a set of bills that are going to take this out of our hands. We can’t be too restrictive on this stuff. We have to keep that in mind.”
“I have to agree with you on most of that,” Putnam added. “They (Lansing politicians) do those kinds of things to us.”
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